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Posted - 07/20/2005 :  10:28:39 AM  Show Profile
For More Information: Aaron Viles, Gulf Restoration Network (504) 525-1528 ext. 207 aaron@healthygulf.org

Ecosystem Management Means “Every Fish Counts,” says Coalition of Fishing and Conservation Organizations

(New Orleans, Louisiana) The Gulf Restoration Network along with a coalition of conservation and fishing organizations today released a report analyzing and critiquing fisheries management in the Gulf of Mexico. The report, titled “Every Fish Counts,” exposes a failure to minimize bycatch—wildlife caught accidentally when other species are targeted.

The two primary government entities responsible for fisheries management in the Gulf of Mexico’s federal waters are the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Both have recognized for many years that important wildlife interactions need to be considered for good management. This “ecosystem-based approach” is now being considered by NMFS and the Gulf Council.

Reducing bycatch is a major component of any effective ecosystem management plan. The Gulf Restoration Network’s report “Every Fish Counts” sends that message to the Gulf Council, NMFS, and the public.

The amount of bycatch in the Gulf of Mexico reef fish fishery is highlighted in “Every Fish Counts.” Reef fish include popular fish such as red snapper and grouper. The report indicates that bycatch could be a key reason why such fish are depleted and significant fishing restrictions have been required.

“Many popular Gulf reef fish are depleted,” explained Aaron Viles, Fisheries Campaign Director of the Gulf Restoration Network. “A significant factor is that we don’t include estimates of fish that die in other fisheries. For example, when setting an annual quota for red snapper, we need to include the number of red snapper caught and killed out of season when people are fishing for vermilion snapper.”

Bycatch is an important factor in managing depleted fish. Internationally, an estimated 25 percent of the world's fish catch—some 44 billion pounds of fish—and thousands of other ocean animals such as dolphins and seabirds are captured annually as bycatch. Anecdotal estimates from the Gulf of Mexico indicate that bycatch more than doubles the directed allowable catch of some reef fish species. In fact, the report finds that 100% of overfished reef fish species in the Gulf lack a comprehensive effective bycatch plan, despite a legal mandate to minimize bycatch established by the U.S. Congress almost ten years ago.

In the report, the Gulf Restoration Network calls on the Gulf Council and NMFS to develop and enact effective bycatch regulations as part of long-term ecosystem management. The regulations must include the following guidelines:

· All managed fisheries must develop bycatch estimates.

· Bycatch estimates must take into consideration species that are thrown overboard because they are too small or are out of season as well as those that are discarded because they have no value.

· Bycatch estimates must include all commercial and recreational types of fishing gear.

· All efforts to estimate bycatch must be peer-reviewed.

· Bycatch estimates must by fully incorporated into management decisions, including calculations of yearly total allowable catch.

The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, a body of knowledgeable individuals appointed by the President to develop recommendations for a new and comprehensive national ocean policy, underscored that action was needed to reduce bycatch in their report released last year.

Ocean Commissioner Frank Muller-Karger, a professor at University of South Florida College of Marine Science, stated, “Various species of animals are caught by accident while we conduct our business or pleasure in the ocean. This bycatch problem is larger than most people know, and larger than some care to admit. The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy made a series of recommendations that, above all, will require a scientific process to define the true total allowable catch and will require those fishing to keep within these guidelines. The science needs to help us understand how the fish depend on different parts of the environment including other fish, and how different uses of the ocean affect marine wildlife. This is what we are calling ecosystem-based management.”

Recreational Fishermen also spoke out for better measures to reduce bycatch. Charlie Smith, with the Louisiana Charterboat Association said, "I believe in a holistic approach to fisheries management. All sides benefit from bycatch reduction and the resource is important to all, including consumers of fish and shrimp. If shrimpers alone are blamed for not using technology which doesn't exist, it is unfair. They are also part of the fishery."

The groups hope that the “Every Fish Counts” report will motivate positive changes in the Gulf of Mexico fishing regulations.

To download a copy of the report, please visit http://healthygulf.org

The Gulf Restoration Network is a diverse network of individuals and local, regional, and national groups committed to uniting and empowering people to protect and restore the resources of the Gulf region for future generations. Founded in 1994, the GRN has members in each of the five Gulf states. On the web at http://healthygulf.org.

Edited by - GRNAaron on 07/20/2005 10:32:22
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